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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. I thank the Senator from Texas. I have worked on these areas for a long time. I too am a defense hawk. I am not often accused of that because I am critical of wasteful spending in the Pentagon.

Let me outline for my colleagues that the Pentagon's budget is near $600 billion, counting the extra money for overseas efforts today. Just by auditing the Pentagon, the GAO estimates the Pentagon itself would save $25 billion. The only branch of the Pentagon that has come close to an audit so far is the Marine Corps. For every dollar they are spending now on managing, they are saving $3 in the Marine Corps.

So we have repeated attempts through the year to address the symptoms of the problems rather than the real problem. Let me outline that.

The Pentagon has a broken procurement system. If we think about the programs which have been canceled and the penalties paid because of the programs which have been canceled--and Senator McCain can talk about those better than I ever could--we have never fixed the real problem, and the real problem is what Eisenhower warned against. It is the defense industrial complex. The only way we will ever solve the procurement problem of major weapons systems is to force the defense industry to have capital at risk on new weapons systems. In other words, they have to have money in the game.

What routinely happens are two things: One is they don't have money in the game and we start out at cost-plus programming. Then the second problem--which Senator McCain identified with me today and I have long known--is there is never a grownup in the room when it comes to adding on the bells and whistles in terms of the costs. As a matter of fact, half of the major weapons systems the Pentagon is buying today are on the high-risk list by GAO. So what we have to do is fix the real problems, not continue to treat the symptoms.

Let me run through a list in terms of savings in the Pentagon. These are not 1-year but 10-year numbers. So if we instituted this, we would save one-tenth of what I mention.

Just consolidation of the defense IT structure could save $160 billion over the next 10 years. There are 80,000 employees working in IT for the Pentagon. That is twice the population of my hometown. They have more data centers in the Pentagon than we have in all the rest of the government combined. As a matter of fact, Senator Bennet and I have coauthored a bill to reduce those data centers. They are not highly utilized. They are very expensive to run. They also put us at risk for cyber security.

The other thing not mentioned about IT is in weapons system procurement we have other ITs that aren't even counted in this, managing those procurement programs.

If we took the V-22 Osprey we have on order and replaced it with MH-60 helicopters--which can accomplish almost exactly the same thing--we can save $600 million a year, every year, over the next 10 years. Boeing doesn't like that--Boeing and their partner in contracting don't like that. But there hasn't been a weapons systems we have deployed that has had as many problems as the V-22 Osprey. Yet we are going to buy more, rather than a proven vehicle transport system which can accomplish almost everything the Osprey can. It is not the latest, it is not the newest, but it actually accomplishes the goal.

If we reduce the spending for other procurement programs--and let me say why this is important. The Defense Logistics Agency has no idea what they have in inventory. There is a public law which says they will have an inventory. They have ignored it for years. So they have never taken an inventory. It is ``too big'' to take an inventory. There are hundreds of billions of dollars of equipment and parts and supplies at the DLAs, at the depots around the country, that are in excess and we continue to buy new parts for because we don't know we have them. Fix the real problem. That is $52 billion over the next 10 years.

If, in fact, we took nonmilitary jobs at the Pentagon being filled by uniformed personnel today and replace them with civilian Federal employees, we would save $53 billion over the next 10 years. These do not require a trained soldier to do these jobs. That is $5 billion a year. That is 10 percent of the sequester on the Pentagon. All we have to do is to decide to do it. Do it. But we will not do it.

If we reduced contractor support and did more stuff internally by the military--and I will give a great story. Offutt Air Force Base in southwest Oklahoma, C-17 training. The most recent commander down there saved $136 million the first year he tried in running that base. He got the heck kicked out of him for doing it by the higher-ups because they wanted him spending all the money. But what he did is demonstrate there was $136 million we could save on that one base. The question is, Where is the leadership to do that? So we could save that $53 billion--$37 billion in terms of decreasing contract support.

If we just consolidated the three military health care services, we would save $380 million a year. At the same facilities, at the same locations we have duplicative military health care services. So we can consolidate that, give more consistent care, give better care, and yet save a significant amount of money.

The Department of Defense has over 104 science, technology, engineering, and math programs. Governmentwide we have 207. Over half of them are at the Department of Defense. Why 104 from the Department of Defense? Why not one that incentivizes science, technology, engineering, and math? If we consolidated them, we could save $1.7 billion over the next 10 years. That is $170 million a year.

What will that do for the operations and maintenance budget? What will that do for flying time for our pilots? What will it do for training that is not happening now for people deploying to Afghanistan? Those should all happen.

Domestic schools. We have 16 bases that still have domestic schools on them, where we run schools by the Pentagon. The cost per student in the United States is $50,000 per student, five times what we spend everywhere else in this country on elementary and high school education. If we just ran those in the local school district and paid them $1,000 or $2,000 more than their average cost, we would save over the next 10 years $9.8 billion. We would save $1 billion a year.

If we consolidated the DOD-administered grocery and retail stores--and, by the way, Walmart has offered to do that, to offer the same prices--we lose money every year on those, and that doesn't include the cost of running them. When we have gone out to price things against the grocery store or Costco or Walmart or everywhere else, we can actually buy it as cheaply in the private sector as we can at a base PX. The point is here is a perceived benefit which is costing us a lot of money but isn't truly there.


Mr. COBURN. There are a lot of ideas. No. 1, our biggest problem is when we buy, we don't know what we want. So don't even start a proposal until we truly know what we want. That is No. 1.

No. 2 is there has to be capital at risk by the person building the ship or building the airplane. The only way to incentivize the private industry to control cost is to make sure half the cost is coming out of their hide. If we do that, what will happen is we will see real cost control because they don't do it on the commercial side. They only do it on the military side.

The third thing is having a grownup in the room when we decide to make modifications. The fact is, when we think we have an unlimited budget, nobody is there to say: You don't have an unlimited budget. You can't add this. It may be nice.

There is a great story on that. It was an Army backpack helicopter developed by Honeywell--on time, on price. Here is Honeywell delivering what the Army wanted on time and on price, and the military buyers added bells and whistles. It ended up weighing 12 pounds more, tripling the cost, and delaying the onset, to where they finally cancelled it--not because the supplier didn't supply it on time and on price, but the military was out of control in terms of what they were asking for. So they didn't get it. So we didn't have the availability to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to look behind walls, which was available and on time. But it was our purchasing system.

So we can't worry about the symptoms. We have to change the structure. We have to change the leadership.

I will make one final point. Right now we have more admirals than we have ships. At the end of World War II, we had 10,500,000 people under arms, we had over 2,200 general staff officers. Today, we have half that many and 1,500,000 in arms. There is one of the big problems. One of the biggest problems is that we have way too many staff officers--general staff officers who each have a cadre of people and then protect their turf. They don't protect the country, they protect their turf, and that is not to take anything away from their service. It is human nature. What we need is a marked reduction in general officers.


Mr. COBURN. I would add one thing and then yield back to my colleagues.

Inside the Defense Department, over the next 10 years, we are going to spend approximately $60 billion on things that have nothing to do with defense. Ten percent of that is health care research conducted by the military which doesn't have anything to do with the military. We have the NIH, the world's premier leading research organization, and we ought to transfer that out of the military.

As a matter of fact, the guy who started that was a friend of mine, Ted Stevens. One of the last things he told me is one of the biggest mistakes he ever made is putting medical research into the Pentagon, because now it gets funded, and we are duplicating things at the Pentagon which we are doing at NIH on diseases such as breast cancer, prostate cancer. I happen to have a little experience with that one. The fact is we are not spending the money wisely.

We are spending money we do not have duplicating what we are already spending money on.

I yield to my senior colleague.


Mr. COBURN. If people are interested,, and they can get that information. Everything we have, every study we have published, all the waste, all the duplication.

I have one other item.

There is at least $200 billion a year that the GAO--not Tom Coburn--has identified in waste and duplication in the Federal Government. We have not acted. Only one committee of Congress, Education and The Workforce, in the House, has acted on one of the recommendations as far as duplication. So the problem is us.


Mr. COBURN. This is a very important bill for our country in terms of authorizing the defense of this country. Many of us have relevant amendments--not amendments outside the scope of this bill, but relevant amendments--which will actually markedly improve the way we conduct policy in the Defense Department. Without the assurance that those amendments are going to be able to be offered--they can be tabled, but without that assurance, it makes it difficult to agree to a consent not knowing whether or not we will have the opportunity to represent the people we represent in offering amendments which will make positive improvements to this bill.

So I put forward that we are really not conducting the business of the country if we are limiting the ability of Members of the Senate to offer amendments. Absent that guarantee, I will object.


Mr. COBURN. First of all, the amendment we are talking about isn't pending because the tree has been filled. So we don't even have an amendment pending. Seventy-six times the majority leader has filled the tree, more than two times all the rest of the Senate majority leaders in history.

Last year, under Senators LEVIN and MCCAIN's leadership, we considered 125 amendments or thereabouts, some in a manager's package with others. There were over 300 amendments offered. The average length of time to consider this bill is about 2 1/2 weeks. We have had it up less than 1 week, and the fact is this is the consideration for an authorization bill in excess of $500 billion, and we are not going to have amendments on it.

So there is not a unanimous consent that I will agree to, until we agree to open the Senate to allow Members to offer their ideas. Table them. The fact is, if we run this just like we did last year, we will be through with this in 5 to 7 days. If we continue to do what we are doing now, we won't finish it, and it won't be because we don't want to finish it. It will be because we won't have the opportunity to have input into a bill that is over 50 percent of our discretionary spending in this country.


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